17 September 2013

Giroud, Marseille, and the power of homecomings

The last time that Olivier Giroud travelled to the State Vélodrome to face Marseille was in April 2012 when he still led the line for Montpellier, and he tallied a goal and an assist in a 3-1 victory. This was the season that saw him score 26 goals in 51 matches across all competitions, good enough to encourage us to pony up for him by June 2012. Without making too much of something that occurred almost 18 months ago, I'm picking Giroud to deliver one goal, if not two, in what should be one of the easier matches in a tricky Group of Death.
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Wielding a significant height advantage over Marseille's first-choice keeper and defenders, and on a fine run of form that has seen him score in four of five matches to start the season, Giroud looks well-positioned to seize the initiative in his second visit to France since joining Arsenal in June 2012. He has looked bright, confident, and, may I say, clinical. His touch has seemed sharp, and we have yet to any wasteful ways. Of his 22 shots so far, seven have been on frame, and four have found their way home. If we look at conversion-rate as a ratio of shots on target and goals, Giroud has an unheard-of conversion-rate of 57%. Taken as a ratio of shots to goals, he still manages a sparkly 18.2%. By any metric, then, Giroud has found a rather comfortable rhythm to start the season, the kind of run that bodes well for Wednesday as well as for the season as a whole. I've tabbed him to go for twenty goals in the Prem (and did so before Özil joined the squad). Özil's first touches saw him collect a Gibbs lob and thread a cross into the box for Giroud to send home, an exquisite display that certainly bodes well for their partnership. For as much as we might bemoan Theo Walcott's profligacy this past Saturday, Giroud made good on his chance, and it's there that we should focus. Walcott's finishing will improve in time. If anything, he might be suffering from an embarrassment of riches, hardly believing the service he's getting. There's hope in that, myopic though it may be. With Giroud, there seems less need for such hope as he's currently the Prem's leading scorer (tied with Benteke and Sturridge for those interested in full disclosure) and looks to build on that through a growing relationship with Özil.

As for Marseille, they've started well enough but have done so against a fair number of minnows, beating Evian, Valenciennes and newly-promoted Guingamp, winners of four of fifteen matches between them; and drawing with winless Toulouse and losing to newly-promoted Monaco. This is an uneven start, to say the least, and not one that should inspire fear. It should certainly not, on the other hand,  inspire complacency. Arsène has targeted ten points (from 18 available) as the threshold for qualification. Taking all three from Marseille on Wednesday and again in November would put us in fine shape for advancement, then. Even with a couple of tricky fixtures coming up—home vs. Stoke, at West Brom, at Swansea—on the horizon, here's hoping that Arsène fields something close to a full-strength squad. Mertesacker and Vermaelen are both available, the latter returning from long-term injury. Some rotation in the back-line might be appropriate as a result. The midfield looks stable, if only because of a dearth of options, with Ramsey and Flamini in the pivot with Özil, Walcott, and Wilshere patrolling the midfield behind Giroud up-top. Truth be told, Marseille is a team we really should be able to manage, if not dominate, if we expect to make any progress. I don't mean to underestimate Marseille, of course, but taking all three points is a vital goal. Taking all three points against an inferior opponent (no disrespect) is key—and I think our boys know this and will go out like berserkers to do that.

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